Dealers Take CarNow Software for a Test Drive

“Give us the good, bad and ugly,” CarNow’s John Lilly tells a group of dealer people. “All feedback is good.”

Steve Finlay, Senior Editor

February 29, 2024

3 Min Read
CoLab photo
CarNow’s Boone shows potential future product to dealership people during a CoLAB session.Steve Finlay

“Be honest, even if it is brutally honest.”

That’s what John Lilly tells a group of car dealers who gather to see and react to some of what’s in the early development stages for his company, CarNow, a digital auto retailing software provider.

“Give us the good, bad and ugly,” Lilly, CarNow’s chief product officer, tells the invited dealer assemblage. “All feedback is good.”

The company calls its initiative CoLAB, a blend of “collaboration” and “laboratory.” It held the sessions atop its double-decker booth at this year’s National Automobile Dealers Assn. show in Las Vegas.

“We thought, ‘What if we did something different and flipped the script?,’” Lilly says of the idea of showing dealers potential products and finding out what they think of them.

“The point is to get the feedback early and often” on what’s not ready for production or even for software engineers to start building, Lilly tells WardsAuto.

At one particular session, dealer attendees held back on brutality. But they had questions. Many inquiries centered on how the could-be products and product enhancements they viewed would integrate with their dealerships’ central computer operating systems.

Lilly emphasizes the sessions aren’t product pitches.

“We’re not trying to sell anything,” he tells attendees. “We want to know what you think. We’ll do any selling later.”

The run-throughs included potential enhancements to software showing sales managers what’s happening on the showroom floor, a review of day-before opportunities, who has taken a test drive, what customer is awaiting a trade-in appraisal and who is prepped for an F&I session.

“Sales managers are responsible for handling a lot of information in a short amount of time,” says Taylor Boone, CarNow’s product director. “Our thinking is to make (the proposed software product) modular.”

On the service side, Melissa Almaraz, CarNow’s senior product director, demonstrates proposed customer-chat capability as well as a system that subtly asks checked-in service customers by text message if they would like their cars appraised as a potential trade-in.   

“It’s designed as a no-pressure text but uses the service department to acquire vehicles for the used-car stock,” Lilly says.

Also proposed is a system that uses artificial intelligence to summarize chat threads and ensure that dealership texts to customers contain perfect grammar. (“Most of us are not English majors,” Lilly says.)

Another proposal the dealer audience sees is including any applicable vehicle recall notices on the service appointment tool.

An audience member said that’s not a bad idea but worried about a customer showing up early for recall work, before the dealership has the necessary parts.

CarNow co-founder Tim Cox tells WardsAuto the sessions are not unlike how the company took root at a Lexus dealership he worked at.

“The company was built at the dealership,” he says. “We were trying it out as we were building it. That’s the genesis of CoLAB; getting feedback from people who will be using it.”

Cox, who started his dealership career at age 17, says his original partner in what became CarNow “didn’t know anything about the auto space, and I did. We were beta testing CarNow at the dealership.”




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